How Women In Hollywood Are Changing The Status Quo By Producing & Directing Their Own Content

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We’ve shared about the ongoing investigation into Hollywood’s alleged discriminatory hiring practiced toward female directors specifically. The American Civil Liberties Union initially spearheaded this, and it was recently announced that another US Government agency (along with the EEOC who had already become involved) has now become part of the investigation, which is tasked with looking into the hiring practices of female directors by major Hollywood studios.

This whole ordeal started when director Maria Giese (pictured below) took her complaint to the ACLU who then launched an investigation. Maria had spent over a decade trying to get work, representation and make a living in the industry she had studied so hard as a student at film school, but soon realized it was gender bias in Hollywood that was holding her and many other women back, not lack of talent. Since ACLU’s involvement in this issue, many other female directors, including some high profile names like Catherine Hardwicke, who famously directed the first ‘Twilight’ movie, making it an international box office success, then being dropped for the sequel in favor of a male director.

This is not the first time the film industry has come under fire for its treatment toward women. Maria Giese told Fortune magazine recalls 6 women who launched a class action suit back in 1983 against the studios. While these women made a huge noise throughout the industry and managed to increase the percentage of women directors from .05% to 16% in 10 years, “the original six” sadly did not work during that time.

We could linger on that point for a while, and continue to show study after study of the dismal statistics surrounding female directors (as well as writers, producers, cinematographers and actors) in Hollywood, but we’ve already done that. Instead, we think it is important to start highlighting just how impactful the blatant gender disparity has become for many women. In 2014 after the infamous Sony Leaks which showed how many high profile actresses were being paid much less than their male co-stars, it forced Charlize Theron to demand getting paid the same as ‘The Hunstman’ co-star Chris Hemsworth.

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It has forced many other women to launch their own production companies, create film initiatives, and forge pathways for other women that have not existed before. What is different now than in 1984 when “the original six” launched their class action, is that there are far more resources for filmmakers to utilize to get their content and message across to the industry as well as to film audiences.

Recently, we have seen how the increased conversations around demanding equal pay have given certain stars the confidence to know their worth and use their position as leverage to be paid adequately. ‘House of Cards’ star Robin Wright, speaking at an industry event in New York, said she threatened the studio bosses with going public unless they paid her the same as her on-screen husband Kevin Spacey.

“I was looking at the statistics and Claire Underwood’s character was more popular than [Frank’s] for a period of time. So I capitalized on it. I was like: ‘You’d better pay me or I’m going to go public.’ And they did,” she said at the event.

Robin is part of the non-profit collective We Do It Together, which is a group of men and (mostly) women aiming to raise awareness about the disparity in Hollywood, and create and distribute their own projects. It certainly helps that major celebs like Robin, Jessica Chastain, and Freida Pinto are part of this collective.

At the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the group announced their first project, titled ‘Together Now’, which will be a series of shorts directed by a woman and starring a high-profile actress.

“We have launched something that is revolutionary, paradigm-changing and will change the discussion,” said film and TV producer Carol Polakoff who is part of the non-profit.

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There has been a decided shift in the knowledge of the power certain women in Hollywood wield, and this recent focus on gender bias within the industry has enabled them to speak out en masse, resulting in a growing wave of female-driven initiatives and production companies. And let’s be clear, this is not just a trend or a fad, it is a fundamental part of what is going to change the balance in Hollywood from a misogynistic boys club, to a truly liberal creative industry where all voices are equal and welcomed.

Oscar-winning Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, riding high on the wave of incredible roles and demand on her talent recently announced the launch of her own company Vikarious Productions together with her London-based agent, in order to produce films starring women, featuring female-focused content and stories, and given voice the female characters not often seen by major Hollywood studio films. She is the latest in a string of female celebs such as Jessica Chastain, Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron, Drew Barrymore, Hilary Swank, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Katherine Heigl, for example, who all launched companies to create vehicles that they can star in as well as direct and produce.

Another exciting initiative which is allowing a crop of younger actresses to stretch their directing wings is Refinery29’s ‘Shatterbox Anthology‘ a series of 12 short films from women directors, writers, and animators crated to showcase female talent. Actresses America Ferrera, Kristen Stewart, Gabourey Sidibe and Chloe Sevigny are a few of the high-profile names who will be behind some of the forthcoming videos shown on the digital platform which has become a favorite of millennial women.

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“Refinery29 aims to rally our community of strong, outspoken, and confident women to harness the strength, passion, and empathy that fuels them. We are proud to be collaborating with award-winning talent to create a slate of female-focused content that showcases what it is to be powerful in a nontraditional way,” said R29 Chief Content Officer Amy Emmerich about the initiative.

‘Empire’ star and Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey told the media at the Digital Content NewFronts event in New York recently why she decided to get involved in Shatterbox Anthology.

“[In my acting career] everything I do, my image and who I am and what I feel represents me is in the hands of a man, usually a white man… I realized very recently that I want to be the one that decides what image I show the public,” she said.

She as well as Chloe, Kristen and America will all be directing some of the videos produced by Refinery29.

These are important steps forward for Hollywood, and a reminder that the more they ignore the voice and power of women, the more they are going to be left behind. Audiences are not loyal to the Hollywood studio system, they care about content, stories, and emotional connection. If they can get this through a digitally-produced piece of content starring their favorite actress instead of on the big screen where they pay upward of $13 USD, then that’s where they will go.

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Academy Award-winner Kathryn Bigelow, the ONLY female director in history to win the Oscar for Best Director, says directors should be judged on their work, not their gender, but clearly this is not happening.

“Hollywood is supposedly a community of forward thinking and progressive people yet this horrific situation for women directors persists. Gender discrimination stigmatizes our entire industry. Change is essential. Gender neutral hiring is essential,” she told Time magazine in a statement after the ACLU investigation was initially launched in 2015.

According to Melissa Goodman, a lawyer with the ACLU involved in the investigation, the aim is to legitimize the issue and “shout from the rooftops” in order to spread more awareness of its implications. It’s not just about affecting a celebrity’s earning potential, the impact goes much, much further.

“Film and television are among our most powerful and influential cultural products, and they’re overwhelmingly made by men, telling male stories, depicting women through a male lens, and reinforcing stereotypes. I think it shapes the way women and girls see themselves and limits the opportunities that the world presents to them,” she said.

We are heartened to see the action being taken by many women in Hollywood which is going to play a major role in shaping the way an entire generation of girls see themselves growing up. Change isn’t just about pointing out the problem, it is about finding solutions and ways to alter the status quo.

4 Comments

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